We determined whether transient exposure to estradiol during middle age in ovariectomized rats would exert lasting effects on cognition and the brain beyond the period of exposure. Two experiments were conducted. Rats 10-11 months of age were ovariectomized and received vehicle control treatment throughout the experiment, continuous estradiol treatment throughout the experiment, or 40 d of transient exposure to estradiol that ended 3 d before behavioral training. In the first experiment, rats were trained on a radial-maze working memory task and killed 2 months after the termination of transient exposure to estradiol. The hippocampus was immunostained for choline acetyltransferase and estrogen receptors alpha (ER alpha) and beta (ER beta) by Western blotting. In a second experiment to determine the durability of treatment effects, rats were behaviorally tested every other month until brains were collected for Western blotting 8 months after the termination of transient exposure to estradiol. Maze testing included delay trials and scopolamine trials, in which dose-effect curves for the muscarinic receptor antagonist were determined. Transient exposure to estradiol enhanced working memory and attenuated amnestic effects of scopolamine as effectively as continuous estradiol exposure. Enhancements persisted for up to 7 months. Transient exposure to estradiol increased hippocampal levels of ER alpha and choline acetyltransferase 2 months and ER alpha 8 months after termination of the exposure. Neither estradiol treatment altered estrogen receptor beta levels. Results demonstrate that short-term treatment with estradiol during middle age enhances working memory well beyond the duration of treatment and suggest ER alpha as a potential mechanism for this effect.